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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 19, 2011 12:54am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

This is a post I've been waiting to make for a long time. This is about the fourth ground-up rewrite of an essay about the jam it describes. I hope if anything I've written about the musical language of the Grateful Dead has been interesting, this post provokes your interest to listen to the music it describes. In general, I think the established knowledge and reception of the band's music is quite thorough, with most of the really interesting shows and jams being pretty well known. I'm curious to get some feedback as to whether or not other listeners find this to be as much of a "diamond in the rough" as it is for me.

The post-75 improvisation of the Grateful Dead is, in general, of substantially lower quality than the 68-74 band, but there are some exceptions to this rule. Most of these are fairly well publicized - jams like 5/6/81 out of He's Gone, or the 3/29/90 Dark Star with Branford, and other notable outbursts of inspiration and intensity have received quite a bit of attention and discussion.

In my previous post tracing the development of notable post-retirement versions of Playin in the Band(http://www.archive.org/post/376567/playin-the-post-retirement-years-long), I deliberately omitted my own favorite post 76 version, which seems to have escaped any notice on this forum, according to my searches for the date. I assume it's obscurity is due to its late date in the band's performance career, a period of time avoided by many of the most devoted listeners and connisseurs, for generally valid reasons. This particular version of PITB though, I believe will be very pleasing to some who generally dislike that era. It makes minimal use of midi, Vince stays on a piano voice and isn't too loud in the mix (and also plays quite well) and its a PITB instrumental jam so no issues with aging voices to distract.

More importantly, the improvisational style and content is simply amazing, on a much higher plane than the vast majority of the post-retirment improv, including, I believe, most of the well-known Dark Stars from its later incarnation. The musical flow, variety of ideas, quality of responsiveness between band members, involvement of every player, and level of committment to exploration is at what I hear as the band at its best, worthy of comparison to a Playin in the Band from 1974. The brilliance of Phil Lesh especially earns that comparison, because Phil is simply huge for this jam. I have listened to more versions of PITB than any other GD song, and this version is the post-retirement performance I find most exciting and most comparable to the glory years.

One particular aspect that I believe "elevates" this version is that it does something very, very rare in the post retirement output, which is reach an actual dramatic climax at its conclusion, which acts as a synthesis of previous material and really provides powerful emotional catharsis at the feeling of a journey completed. In general, the transition into drums was often kind of a progressive dissassembly of the music leaving only the rhythm, with the lines played by the melodic instruments become more and more fragmented until the melodic layer finally dissolved and left the drummers to continue their groove. This can be satisfying, but it is in many ways "lazy" in comparison to trying to make a real musical statement with a definite conclusion. On this night, 7/19/94 at Deer Creek, a Statement Was Made. Skip directly to the Playin, and once the jam starts, make it really, really, really loud.

http://www.archive.org/details/gd1994-07-19.sbd.carr.tetzeli.fix-8476.35164.reflac.flac16

[note: the non-"fix" version of this SBD has all the reviews attached, but I assume "fix" is some kind of improvement so I linked it.]

I will provide a roadmap to how I hear the progression of themes in the jam, and notable moments, and then make some more analytical comments on this jam and its context. Since I recommend listening to this jam multiple times to really assimilate it, you might do better to listen for the first time without my own notes, which try to combine both "impressionistic" metaphors with precise time associations and some objective musical observations:

(2:45) Beginning of the open section. Jerry chooses some mild distortion, but only plays two phrases before he decides to switch back to a non-distorted, clear tone (3:23) as the first "doorway" opens. This jam has a strong sense of progressive motion, spiralling outward, or crossing barriers. (3:46) Phil's riff launches Jerry into small "spin" variant. Most of the standard Playin riffs aren't used in this jam, with just a few allusions to them during the first few minutes. The next minute is fairly typical early-in-the-jam material, but there is an unusually transparent sound to the jam, you can hear each musician's distinctive voice starting to meld the material.

(4:40) This is the moment the band seems to completely synchronize (I think this marks a shift in mode), especially Jerry and Phil. The next section features some of the most perfectly "classical" counterpoint between Jerry and Phil this side of a 69 MotM->Dark Star - the amazing jerry+phil telepathy keeps getting better and better (5:20) as each phrase builds on the previous. The music here has laser-etched precision. (5:50-6:00) Jerry plays a series of chords that ends with a distinctive *snap*, and right after, starts to push against the rhythm like a can opener twisting metal. The music does it's first quasi-melt, and we begin to sense we might be in for a wild ride. (6:30) Jerry strums a couple minor chords and Phil gets "big" to refocus the music, but it's like taking a breath before diving deeper. There is a really striking percussion accelerando that arcs (7:00) in synchronization with a Jerry lead that combines to "smash through" the final wall between the flow of the music and Complete Freedom. The band takes another "breath" like a giant mythological winged beast that has risen out of a volcano after a long sleep, and is surveying the landscape, deciding where to fly. Rather than getting weird immediately, our favorite bassist has a Stroke of Genius...

(7:30) and Phil drops a perfectly jazzy turn that the whole band latches onto instantly. Wow! Suddenly, we are in the Surreal Skeletons' Speakeasy, where the world's driest of dry martinis clink in crystal glasses and an elegantly dressed pair of skeletons dance intertwined in the center of the room. This short jam is Just Exactly Perfect with the drummers dropping into a light jazz rhythm, Jerry and Phil playing a very Hip Groove - "Jazz man, Dig it!" This is a stop on the road strangeness, and as Jerry starts using his pitch-bending effects (8:10) we begin to wonder - why is everything beginning to melt? The Skeleton Speakeasy mirror suddenly shows moss growing on the walls, the proportions of everything are seem wrong, like a funhouse mirror, and now we are floating upward and can hardly remember where we just were as (8:40) Phil stars a "power pulse" of repeating notes and a big cloud of sound rises with more pitch-bends like falcons in the widening gyre. Then, we get another really distinctive segment of group synchronization (9:17) as booming chords in the bass from both Phil and Vince, Bob feedback, and Jerry descending plucked arpeggio combine to turn the music like a sailing ship starting to tack into the wind. This is immediately followed by another perfectly matched bending wail of sound where Jerry bends his pitch up to match Bob's feedback. What is that passing nearby? A small island? Everyone, slow down...slow down...the drummers gradually pull back...and we find ourselves (10:00) in a dusty, quiet meadow on summer's eve, with hazy particles drifting in the sunbeams. This kind of quiet, hushed, moment of calm anticipation is generally found only in the early 70s, where sometimes a long Other One jam would drift into a quiet moment like this. The moment moves into a gorgeous melody played by Jerry with pitch bending, as the percussion plays a strange "falling downstairs" phrase.

(10:40) Bobby thinks its time to get the music moving again, and "pulls the lever" with a tiny alternation of chromatic tones. It's like being at the top of a very big hill, and starting rolling downhill with no brakes. Phil asserts himself with a punchy rhythm and Jerry takes the cue and runs with it, starting a rapid, tightly twisting figure, and suddenly (11:10) its like the band is playing a variation of Slipknot! that started at 45 rpm and got turned up to 78 rpm! Wow, so cool! We often talk about how the post-retirement band had difficulty "changing gears" and this jam is one of the exceptions that prove the rule. The way the whole band seizes this groove, then intensifies it, with Jerry really digging into some aggressive intervals and levering the rhythmic tension up is the kind of alertness to musical possibilities we associate with the Golden Days. The tension rises and (11:45) some stabbing Vince is heard. (No, not Vince being stabbed! How mean of you to think that!) The jam is starting to head towards the Outer Limits now and (12:30) a passage begins we might call a "tiger cub tease" because the dissonant intervals and "buzzing" rhythm hint at the meltdown music of early 70s space. The topic of "white noise as music" is actually pretty interesting and relevant to understanding what the GD were up to in the early 70s, but I suspect Jerry dropped "the Tiger" because he came to think it was somewhat of a cheap trick, not enough of a real "musical idea" for his later taste. I wonder if the Tiger Jam ever came up in an interview? Anyway, the GD in later years still flirted with "pure noise meltdown" but very rarely took it to the extreme. The sense of "noise" is present here, but it is a bit more sculpted and "open" than pure white noise.

In fact, the tremolo takes a really neat turn and (13:20) the music develops a very interesting texture, with the drummers pounding forward, while the string instruments attack the rhythm like gnomes hitting an unstoppable engine with sledgehammers, so it just runs faster and faster - Jerry is doing neat "pizzicato" plucks that have a very Rite of Spring sound. You might think this would represent the peak and culmination of the jam...but as it starts to fade we hear (14:00) the drums pound like a running beast of the jungle, and Phil is the driving force of the Faster than Light Drive (to borrow Kesey's term) propulsion system, and Jerry is the trumpeter in the Valley of Death, the Mad Conductor Lesh is starting to gesture for more, More, and MORE, driving a rapid series of repeated notes as a "pedal point" - there is a breath, and then a great cadenza of interlocking instruments all decorating a similar line (15:27) rolls downward until a rumble of percussion announces that the Moment Is At Hand!

(15:45) The volcano erupts. A whole squadron of Lava Dragons erupts from the volcano and starts to fill the sky. The Mad Conductor demands that everyone must play louder! Forte, Fortissimo, Fortississimo, Fortissississimo! This is an almost unique "Tonal Climax" for a jam - in general, the loudest and most dramatic moments in many jams are the most dissonant. During improv, it was rare for there to be a true improvised resolution and conclusion on a consonant tonic. On this occasion, though, the gigantic Playin Symphony finally grabbed onto the D tonic and blasted it for all its worth - and at the very peak of the mountain of sound, Jerry lays out this perfect new theme off the top of his head, a triumphant, long phrase that sounds like a hybrid of the Main Ten, the Terrapin final instrumental, and the main subject of the 1st movement of Beethoven's 9th - a really glorious and powerful fanfare like melody that the drummers fall into line with, the whole band locks onto the phrase, and it cadences to the tonic perfectly. And then, in a final gift, after a quick decrescendo, Jerry plays another Perfect Melody as a kind of codetta, a sweet D major melody that has the resolution and relaxation of a sunset.

And then its just the drums. Whoa, did that really just happen? How the...what the...what year is it?

Here is some contextual information about aspects of this Playin jam:

The Creek: From 89-94, Deer Creek always had some really great things happen at shows. (Let's ignore the tragedy of 95 for this post, sigh.) Creek shows had a relaxed, laid-back feel in comparison to some of the Big City venues of the midwestern summer tours, and from the first show in 89 with a Close Encounters space, each year at the Creek had its own distinctive virtues, although there were also some weaker shows and things weren't generally as "pumped" as a great show at MSG or other notable east-coast venue. What the Creek had was usually some moments of extended and imaginative jamming. Many Creek shows were at one point fairly well known, although I don't see them talked about too much round these parts. I've never seen any negative comments about this version of Playin, but it never got nearly the attention of 5/26/93, despite being, to my ears, even more interesting and dynamic and unique.

Why is this jam obscure? I would theorize that the negative aspects of this show (Easy Answers to close 1st set, Jerry remembering almost zero of the lyrics in Foolish Heart to open 2nd) as well as its historical positioning during a generally bad tour meant that not many people have listened to it, and without turning it up and listening closely to the PITB, it might not make a huge impression. Lots of people, I think, may kind of "space out" on following the detailed flow of the improv, and the very factors that make this jam so interesting and unique mean that it doesn't really have a lot of the conventional landmarks that people listen for.

Old and new: Any comparisons made with shows two decades before are about the degree of interactiveness and flow in the music, not about any literal quotation or the specific content. The sound of the instruments and other elements are different. The quality of a GD jam is often about the new ground that is broken, and I think the 7/19/94 Playin jam has that aspect of making new musical discoveries that draw upon the learned experience of all the previous versions. I think there is a Jerry interview where he talks about Dark Star, and describes how the goal is to synthesize something new that draws upon everything he has learned previously about what "Dark Star" is and can be, rather than repeating exactly what has worked before. In the late years, that quality of breaking into new terrain was rarer, but in this jam is a window into a parallel universe full of new musical realms.

Other aspects of this show: There are a couple other nice things from this recording - the Wharf Rat is quite fine, well sung and precisely played. There is a very cool use of scraper percussion in Throwin Stones with a good jam section where the quasi-acoustic sound of Jerry's guitar creates a suprisingly fresh feel in a piece of material that wore out its welcome. Drums/Space fans will also find that segment enjoyable, and the "I Want to Tell You" is an interesting rarity that has some nice aspects though will not be to everyone's taste, but does have a simple but effective and smooth transition into Playin. Maggie's Farm in the 1st set is also good. The PITB is on a completely different level than anything else in the show so unless you have a taste for or curiosity about the late years the rest of the show is dispensable.

Vince: One thing I didn't make many specific comments about in the narrative above is the jam has a lot of good Vince contributions, where he seems to be participating in the flow of the music better than usual, and is also using a straight piano voice and is at an appropriate level in the mix. Vince was doing better by the final years than his first few with the band, but everything else was on a downhill, so he has rarely gotten much credit for improving. Vince was often given the wrong voice by Bralove, mixed too loud, and I think he suffered from stage fright and other mental barriers, and would often lose his flow onstage. I don't hate Vince though, I think he deserves to be judged by his best moments rather than his worst. We don't judge Jerry's career by his performance at Giants Stadium in 95, and I'd prefer to remember Vince for his well-placed chords in this Playin jam rather than by "Samba In the Rain".

The mix and the sound: another of the "strikes" against 94 is the loss of Healy. There are definitely some mix issues with a lot of Cutler soundboards, but I think this particular recording "works" - the percussion may be a bit forward in the mix, Jerry could be mixed a bit higher, but you can hear everything everyone plays, I think. Cutler's mix was often reported as being "too quiet" so perhaps those in attendance weren't floored by the big climax of the jam. I believe Cutler wasn't too experienced with the challenges of mixing "stadium sound" which requires an active approach and quite a few compromises, whereas Cutler had more of a "set it up and leave it" attitude toward the faders. One reason sometimes given for the weak jamming in the final tours is the in-ear monitor system. The idea of the in-ear monitors makes sense, but the implementation seemed to cause problems. On this night, it must have been working as well as it ever did, because you can hear the responsiveness between the musicians.

Garcia's tone: I think the Lightning Bolt guitar sounds quite good here, although those who demand distortion on every note may not be convinced. The topic of "is distortion always a good thing?" is quite interesting to me, because to some extent, I think that Garcia's late 60s playing is less refined than his later work, but to some it "sounds better" because of the big, fat, heavy distortion sound. Is distortion an essential part of the rock sound? Is something essential lost when a guitar solo is played with a quasi-acoustic tone? In this particular PITB, I think the first few minutes of the jam, where Jerry stays with a very clean tone, have a really delicious flavor, the way the precision of Jerry's sound meshes with the tones of Phil's bass, which is nicely prominent on this recording, really sounds good to me. Distortion "flattens" the dynamic envelope of the sound - the attack is more defined without distortion, and when synchronization between parts is this precise, it is a nice effect to hear the precision. There are also more upper partial overtones audible in a non-distorted tone, so when instruments are in good tune with each other, you hear a nice "airy" sound. The loss of sustain from distortion does have some positive counterbalancing aspects.

Phil: have I said enough about Phil being all over this jam, driving it forward at multiple points and really listening and responding to everyone? He is so free and creative yet precise and musical from the first moment to the last here - he pitched a perfect game this jam. I have listened to this jam an almost absurd amount of times since rediscovering it a couple years ago. I have done many "focused listening" sessions where I keep my attention focused on a single band member's instrument for the length of the jam. Everyone plays a great, continuous series of musical ideas, but Phil has the perfect note at every moment. I think Phil's performance in the late 80s and 90s is underappreciated due to the focus on Jerry's coma recovery and later decline. I think Phil's playing in the late years is better than most of his work in the late 70s and early 80s when he was in his "Heineken days."

The drums: Billy and Mickey often tried to keep a relatively straight beat for a lot of Playin jams, even when the rest of the band was "going out". In this jam, everything gets really free and fluid, with many "turned corners". It doesn't really sound like Billy solo in a 72-74 Playin jam, but it sounds great, and the final climax has absolutely spine-tingling raging rolling roaring drums that are only possible with two drummers.

A summary of why this PITB is an example of 74 groupmind timewarped to 94: The quality of the listening (you really hear each band member responding to the contributions of the others), the fluidity of rhythm (several different feels and tempos explored, as well as some Total Madness), the creativity and exploration (everyone playing "in the moment" and not relying on their usual licks), the constant motion through musical concepts (the processes of change are continuous, they never get "stuck" on a single musical idea or seem lost for new directions) and the powerful, all-out climax that sounds like the apotheosis of a giant late-romantic symphony.


This post was modified by bkidwell on 2011-07-19 07:54:20

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Poster: Space Jogger Date: Jul 19, 2011 5:17pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

Excellent review there! That's a perfect example of how a Playin' review should be written; guiding the reader through what you're hearing without too much hyperbole.

This didn't sound like a masterpiece to my ears, but I can see where your coming from with your detailed explanations. I thought the sounds you described as "classical counterpart" were really nice to hear; particularly a lovely scale that Jerry busts out that sounded very charming and melodic, only to disappear quickly. I do appreciate that the band sounds like they are trying to "go for it" with quite a few interesting musical ideas.

It's a great idea to examine late-era Playins' and what the have to offer. The Cal Expo Playin' from '93 starts off wonderfully, but falls apart to quickly for my tastes. I really dig the Playin' from "Dozin' at the Knick". That one seems just about perfectly played and transitions smoothly into UJB.

Great post, sir! I enjoyed listening to these "interesting" moments from '94.

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 19, 2011 2:04am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

That was an interesting read, and certainly an unsung Playin'. I never would've heard the things you did.

I've noticed later Playin's tend to often be ignored by reviewers - as in, "oh, the Dead space out for a while before they come back to a real song..." At any rate, later Playin jams are often overlooked by listeners who just hear them as samey, spacey noodling and are more interested in other parts of the shows.

You talk a lot about Jerry & Phil's interaction, and Jerry's clean tone - there's an elephant in the room though, and that's Weir's seriously distorted guitar tone throughout, with lots of sustain, which I thought made for an interesting mix. Like Vince, he seems mainly to be 'background color' here, if that's the right way to put it - rhythm goes by the wayside and it's more freeform, so Weir's role changes in this context.

As for the disappearing Tiger jams, I'd agree that Jerry got tired of it (a lot of the old themes must've seemed old-hat after '75), or it didn't have much place in their changing style - there are some quasi-tigers in '76 I think, then they die off. In '79 after Brent joins, they start doing a somewhat new style of meltdown with Brent's strange noises - more UFO Invasion than Insect Apocalypse. I think it was around '88/89 that big freakouts started occasionally entering the jams again?

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 19, 2011 3:55am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

I provoked LIA into responding to a post about a 94 jam, hell has frozen over and my mission in life is now complete!

I agree that a lot of the Dead's out-there jamming (not just in later years, often when the early years are written about also!) is written about in ways that don't fully engage with the content of the music. Sometimes (more often in the later years) it may be because "there's no there there" and things drift into the negative sense of "noodling" - maybe that term is accurate for the way a lot of early 80s Eyes->Drums transitions go, although sometimes I enjoy that. Other times, though, I think it's because either the vocabulary to analyze the music isn't really there, or because (my pet theory!) the genre of the music has suddenly turned into a 19th century tone-poem and we need a theorist like Heinrich Schenker to analyze it for us.

I identify the 7/29/88 PITB as where more aggressive dissonant/crazed meltdowns started to come back into the range of possibilities after (as you observed) being less and less used.

For as much as the Dead are compared to jazz, I don't hear that element as often in the jams as many do, but I do hear a lot of the 89-91 Dark Star meltdowns as being a weird hybrid of sometimes midi sound effects, sometimes "free jazz" style. There is a lot of pretty wild stuff in shows like 10/26/89, the Branford 90 and 91 shows, and 9/20/90. As much as I love these shows, I'm not always completely convinced by the inner dynamics of the music in these jams, some moments sound forced to me, rather than natural. This particular Playin jam, to my ears the music actually seems to have "evolved past" some of that style into something I hear as more organic, more like the interplay of 74. There isn't much use of midi sound effects at all, until the very end where Jerry does some well-chosen wind voices on top of Phil's repeated notes.

Bob's metallic "yowling" tone is definitely a bit of a strange flavor, although he isn't too far forward in this jam and he seems to be laying back, letting Jerry and Phil guide things and just trying to make additions at the right place. The moments between 9:00 and 10:00 where his feedback and Jerry's pitch bending are entwining is probably where I think Bob shines the brightest in this jam, and he also contributes good body to the big climax before drums. The strangeness of his sound, in contrast to the very 'neutral' sound of Phil and Jerry's distinctively thin sound in the late era, and percussion high in the mix gives this tape a sound that is very contrapuntal rather than blended. The very distinct parts works for me and triggers my 'classical listening' sense of trying to hear each part individually so the moment-to-moment responses of each musician to what they are hearing is apparent. One of my favorite things about this jam is that I can really hear each musician "adjusting their part" to follow everyone else, it has the kind of attentive listening that Phil complained about the band not having sometimes.

I've been more or less comprehensive in listening to all the "Dark Star" and "Playing in the Band" performances from 89 to the end, and even the places where jamming is good, the way the musicians relate to what is happening and shape it has a different dynamic from the early years. For some reason, 7/19/94 PITB triggers my "groupmind transcendence" tripwire more than even some very strong post-retirement jams, because it has this sense of large-scale motion toward a goal that reaches a peak that is more of a tonal resolution rather than noise freakout.

When I first heard the SBD of this jam maybe two years ago, I hoped there would be a lot more obscure but large-scale and distinctive improvisations lurking out there from less commented on postretirement tours, but a lot of digging hasn't turned up as much Really Wild Stuff as I was hoping. Given that 5/26/93 PITB gets a fair amount of love, I think the community should add 7/19/94 PITB to the shortlist of notable final era jams - I think it is at least as interesting a journey.

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Poster: snow_and_rain Date: Jul 19, 2011 9:21am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

"I provoked LIA into responding to a post about a 94 jam, hell has frozen over and my mission in life is now complete!"

This is very telling... You're really not even trying to conceal it anymore, are you?

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 19, 2011 12:32pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

Next thing you know, he'll be trying to convert me to the Great Moments of MIDI!

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Poster: jerlouvis Date: Jul 19, 2011 11:02am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

I did not think the band was capable of such an extended (17 minutes) and varied jam at this juncture in their career,not so much about noise making with gizmos but truly inspired music making,it did bring back the vibe of the heyday performances,to what extent is a matter of opinion.I found the sound of the band to be less grating ( although Bob's tone was distracting) and not quite so synthetic,bkidwell explained the how's and why of this in his post.While I felt the band approached the music as individuals in this version,it achieved a group sound in an odd sort of way,Jerry and Phil seemed to be together somewhat at the root of the music,with Vince tying things together with some very strong playing,Bob seems contradictory in tone and attack and the drums as usual Billy is good and Mickey is unnecessary and intrusive.What is impressive about this version is the amount of different ideas incorporated into the jam in a nice,flowing manner and how it sort of bounces from player to player.Considering it is 1994 this is a very strong effort.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 19, 2011 4:36pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

Thanks a lot for sharing your impressions - from your posts, I had gathered you liked the jams with a very free feeling and the band "exploring its way forward" even when the music sounds strange and never finds a toe-tapping kind of groove. I am glad to see someone else hears a bit of the 72-74 spirit in this. I wish the later career of the band had more jams like this one, but as we all know, they are hard to find. This is one that I thought had managed to escape notice despite being about as good as the 76-95 band ever got at really cutting loose.

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Poster: jerlouvis Date: Jul 19, 2011 8:37pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

This was a very interesting version in that it was not only good for 94' but was impressive as a post hiatus version in that it contained some true improvisation on a group level even though the group interaction wasn't quite the same as in the old days,maybe a bit more individual playing molded into a group like jam.I enjoy very much when the music takes a turn for the weird and unusual,toe tapping is certainly not a requirement.If more of their later music was like this I might be more inclined to give it a listen.

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Poster: deadhead53 Date: Jul 19, 2011 5:04am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

Wow bk, that was impressive that you have posted this. Myself I am not a huge PITB fan once they extended it out, I like the shorter versions of 71 and early 72 but after reading this I will check out those PITB's you suggested. Thanks man!

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 19, 2011 5:05am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

Ah-ha - well, that it was 94 wasn't so important, it's more that it was a several-hundred-word description of a 15-minute jam. One can only imagine the descriptive heights an actually GOOD jam from the '70s could have inspired! :)

Actually, with Eyes>Drums you nail one of the least attractive aspects of '80s Dead for me....I just hate that segment, whenever you see that you know it will be some ultra-zippy Eyes with barely any jam and Jerry rapidly spinning off into nowhere while the band trickles out....then often as not, we get treated to some random Bob & Brent riffing before the Drums starts.....painful stuff. I suppose it was the band's way of "deconstructing" the music before the return to pure sounds....

But anyway, not everyone will like a particular jam or style, and only the dedicated few might try to listen "through" a jam rather than just enjoying the surface, if they even find the surface that compelling. (Reviewers aren't compelled to write long treatises anyway! - sometimes a few brief words are all that can be found.) And sometimes it takes a particular set of ears to 'unlock' what's in a certain passage - the band might be working out something internally interesting to them, but not to you.

The combination of Dark Stars and MIDIs did produce a bunch of hairy meltdowns in the 89-91 period - I'd wondered, though, if there were other examples in Playin's or Other Ones I hadn't heard, or if it was really rather rare. There hasn't been a history compiled of "the Dead's later meltdowns" as far as I know!
And I'm not too concerned about these moments being forced or inorganic, since generally in that era I like them more than the surrounding music, and the whole MIDI thing sounds strange & unnatural to me anyway!

I also hear Weir following rather than leading in this jam, as I guess is normally the case. And I also noticed, as you mention, the various guitar tones don't "blend" but are very separate; which sounds a little strange actually, compared to earlier eras, but isn't distracting.
The style actually sounds much more 'introverted' than it had been in '74 - less reaching out to the audience, more the band playing to itself. It's something that strikes me sometimes in these later shows, that sometimes the lengthier jam moments or spaces could be Garcia just trying things out for himself, regardless of an audience. The playing is more 'foreshortened' later on, if that makes sense - rather than extending themes & repeating melodies, notes are rushed or crammed in, ideas quickly collapse in on themselves & disappear, as if half-played, more the theory of a motif than an actual playing-through - which for me makes the music sound like it's running in place.

Well, that's just babbling that may not make much sense...

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 19, 2011 6:18am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

Great observations! I really enjoy comparing "perceptual notes" with someone who I think really hears inside the music in a way few commentators have.

Your comments about the "inwardness" of some of the late style reminds me of an interview with Garcia towards the end, where he was asked about the experience of playing with Ornette Coleman, and he said it was one of those things where it would just gradually enrich his playing, and I believe he ended by saying:

"I'll be clearing arenas from coast to coast, it will be so weird!"

For me, the aspect of "let's just follow this eccentric musical concept where it leads" is always exciting, even if it just ends up leading through a swamp and thorny bushes. The aspect of the music you describe as "running in place" (which is a phrase D.F. Tovey also used to criticize the finale of Tchaikovsky's Fifth Symphony for similar reasons!) to me creates an aspect I perceive as somewhat dreamlike or psychedelic - the fact that the music never "settles" but constantly shifts is a lot of why I listen to this particular jam over and over again, trying to hear every detail.

If your ears have some spare listening time for non-Grateful Dead material, I have a musical reference for late romantic classical music I'm curious if your ears appreciate - or if this kind of thing also sounds somewhat "formless" to you, in the same way as my pet 94 PITB:

Gustav Mahler, 9th symphony, 1st movement:

http://www.youtube.com/watch?v=BjuWwc-H4IY

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Poster: light into ashes Date: Jul 19, 2011 12:34pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

I don't think you mentioned the audience version of this show, but I think it also sheds light on the jam - the Playin' sounds more tough & tense than on the SBD, it almost sounds like they're trying to bully the audience... Partly that's because, with the band in mono and the instruments less distinct, the effect is more concentrated.
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1994-07-19.nak300.bleich.GEMS.92433.flac16

It might be interesting to compare to the AUD of a Playin' with a similar effect from 20 years earlier:
http://www.archive.org/details/gd1972-12-11.108946.aud.menke.motb.flac16
Typically aggressive for the time, but also deep in that dreamlike/psychedelic state.

I suspect Jerry used some of the later Dead jams & spaces to play out the stranger patterns that interested him - he mentioned how, when practicing for himself, he liked to try weird scales, stuff that didn't sound very 'musical.' And of course, he couldn't play it in JGB shows!

I'm not that into formlessness, and prefer the more patient earlier Dead jams where they do 'settle' occasionally & play more thematic things at length - there's more feeling of forward motion, to me, and more distinct 'parts' in the jams. Or perhaps I prefer music that's less dense & more approachable. Anyway, while the weird Spaces of later years are often the adventurous highlights of the shows, they're more interesting than lovable for me.

And comparatively, Mahler didn't sound that formless!

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 19, 2011 9:38pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

To step back from this particular show, and looking at the question of dissonant and challenging music throughout the band's career, I think there is always an interesting "critique of abstract art" aspect to the discussion of "noise music" broadly defined - "Even a monkey can make a painting like that!"

People who don't like the Grateful Dead's live music at all usually take particular exception to the free music, rhetoric like "people on drugs making random noises" and the like. There are plenty of rebuttals to that, often making reference to the greats of 20th century jazz and classical composition, but even plenty of GD fans are sometimes putoff by long stretches with no steady rhythm or recognizable harmony and melody.

I've spent a lot of time listening to "difficult" music of one kind or another, and it's hard for me to give any kind of general aesthetic principle other than "I can feel the difference between when the sound has meaning and significance and communicates something, and when it might as well just be a tin can rolling down the street."

Music like Scriabin's late piano pieces, Schoenberg's atonal music prior to inventing the 12-tone system, Ligeti's work throughout his career, Messiaen's bird-song inspired works, some pieces by George Crumb, somehow succeed in creating a sound universe where everything has meaning, once your ears tune themselves to the distinctive language.

I hear, throughout the GD's career, the same kind of ability to evolve new musical languages, and do it in real-time. The magic doesn't always happen, and not every segment of improv that violates standards of rhythm and harmony gels into a coherent composition, or perhaps there is a bad ratio of "failed experiments" to "successful experiments". What makes something a success, though, is often not so much whether it ends up sounding like a song, or creating a singable melody or dance-like rhythm, but more the sense of whether or not a synthesis was accomplished.

I listen for synthesis by trying to hear whether or not the musicians are adjusting their parts to one another in real-time. Sometimes I hear what Phil called "playing ahead" where the parts just proceed in parallel - sometimes it sounds good because the parts fit, but at the same time it is lifeless, dancing next to someone rather than dancing together.

During 68-74, that quality of interaction in the moment is there a very high percentage of the time, regardless of how weird a given passage might sound. It's where the magic comes from, and one of the reasons we can discuss so endlessly is that the magic is there, to my ears, in both the chaotic noise music and the more conventional sounding groove/theme jams.

I'm with those who trace a large component of that magic to the particular musical relationship between Jerry and Phil. The great composer Johannes Brahms used to evaluate a score written by another composer by covering the middle of the page and saying "let's see what there is in your top and bottom, with all the trimmings removed" - if you have the bass line and the leading melody, you can usually hear the heart of the music. Jerry and Phil embody the relationship of melody and bass perfectly.

For me, (to finally return to pitb 7/19/94) this jam is an example of Jerry and Phil really listening to each other and taking a very wild ride through a lot of musical ideas, and the whole band seems to hop on with enthusiasm and ride the train for all its worth, and built up enough energy and steam to deliver a really huge all-out conclusion, with one of the biggest, gnarliest crescendos (15:30-16:00) and then a Mighty Theme delivered at full blast (16:10-16:40) to deliver the sense that a huge adventure has been brought to a triumphant conclusion.

All of the constantly shifting, never-finding-stability music in the previous parts of the jam to me seems to create tension which is resolved by this conclusion, which has a kind of orchestral thickness and weight that I haven't heard elsewhere, despite a lot of searching through the archive.

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Poster: Dudley Dead Date: Jul 19, 2011 8:21am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

I often feel the "architecture", of a Grateful Dead show resembles that of a Mahler symphony . Mahler believed a symphony should "encompass the world", The varied journey given to us by a Dead show, seems to me , to be just that .
Could go on, but I will just say BRAVO, to this thread !

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Poster: 219mid Date: Jul 19, 2011 12:02pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

You might be interested in knowing that the Phil/TC wing was of the opinion that the greatest Mahler 9th was from the 50s conducted by Hans Rosbaud. It doesn't appear to be available now, but is worth looking for.

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Poster: bkidwell Date: Jul 19, 2011 4:47pm
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

Thanks for sharing that fact, I did not know that! Definitely be interesting to seek that recording out, Mahler 9 is such an amazing work.

From my very first experience hearing live GD, it always struck me like "Wow, this is like a Mahler symphony using rock music instead of German folksongs as the inspiration!" although I agree that for all the musicians other than Phil, that probably wasn't how they perceived what they were doing.

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Poster: 219mid Date: Jul 20, 2011 10:05am
Forum: GratefulDead Subject: Re: The Phil-harmonic finale to the Playin' symphony, an obscure mastepiece [long]

I will be glad to send you a copy if you want to send your addrss. I only have a cd and it might take a while to find it. I'm surprised nobody has brought up the great line of American music that begins with Charles Ives. The 2d symphony, with its numerous quotes from hymns, is a dead-like idea. Although he is not as prominent, Henry Cowell was working much the same side of the street with his series of Hymns and Fuguing Tunes.

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